Re-Engineering Schools to Support Adolescent Literacy Imperative to College-Readiness, Career Success, Says Carnegie Corporation Expert in Congressional Testimony

Washington, D.C., November 19, 2009 — Good early literacy instruction does not inoculate students against struggle or failure later on. To ensure that adolescents are prepared for college and a career, we must re-engineer our schools to ensure that literacy instruction extends to middle and high school students, Andrés Henríquez, Carnegie Corporation of New York's Program Officer managing the foundation's Adolescent Literacy initiative, told the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education today. Read Henríquez's oral testimony

Henriquez's written testimony is available at

In his oral testimony, Andrés Henríquez said that after 3rd grade, students must decipher more complex passages, synthesize information at a higher level, and learn to form independent conclusions based on evidence. It is also at this point, that students must develop more specialized skills and strategies for reading text in differing content areas, such as English, science, math and history. 

"From Kindergarten through the end of 3rd grade, kids are learning to read. But beginning in 4th grade, they are reading to learn," said Henriquez. 

Henriquez continued, "Students who are not proficient at understanding what they read and in communicating what they have learned are also at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to succeeding in college and in competing for success in what is becoming an increasingly knowledge-based global economy."

Henríquez cited Carnegie Corporation's five-year Advancing Literacy Initiative to gather knowledge and ideas from experts nationwide on topics ranging from linguistics to the social science of teaching. The foundation's work is summarized in the recent Time To Act report, which delves deep into how to advance literacy and learning for all students, including such topics as the cost of implementing adolescent literacy programs and reading in the disciplines. 

Henriquez concluded his testimony with a series of recommendations for the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education:

Increase Title I support for middle and high schools. 
At the moment only 5 percent of federal Title I funds go to middle and high schools. If the nation is to remain competitive we must increase high school graduation and college-going rates among our most disadvantaged students.

Fewer, clearer, higher Common standards.
This will help to increase attention to reading and writing and especially focus on comprehension that can be embedded in other content areas.

Fully fund and expand a comprehensive preK-12 literacy continuum with specific support set aside for grades 4-12 adolescent literacy.
This way more students and their teachers will have access to federal support.

Last week the LEARN Act, was introduced and was the first critical step to meet recommendations at the federal level. We appreciate the work of Chairman Miller and Representatives Polis and Yarmuth for introducing this important piece of legislation.

Investigate the costs and benefits of linking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to international literacy tests, PISA and Progress in International Literacy Study PIRLS.
While NAEP has been an indispensable measure for tracking America's educational progress, it provides no sense of how America stands in relation to other nations. 

Funding an effort to equate long-term trend NAEP test with PISA and PIRLS would allow us to get an instant snapshot not only of how our young people are performing vis-à-vis the rest of the world. 

Increase support for the National Writing Project (NWP).
For more than 30 years, National Writing Project has been one of the nation's most coherent literacy professional development efforts. Through Carnegie support, The National Writing Project has also begun a National Adolescent Reading Initiative to complement its work in writing. Increased support for NWP will ensure that the research-based methods used in reading and writing in secondary schools are infused in a large number of school districts across the country. 

Increase federal funding for evidenced-based research for adolescent literacy. We need to intervene and individualize instruction with students as soon as they begin to fail. We don't know what the best strategies are for the particular levels of failure. We need increased funding for research at NICHD and IES that could demonstrate how best to assess adolescents in order to determine their need for intervention and support.

One of the primary challenges, according to Henriquez, is to connect reading and writing instruction to the rest of the secondary improvement agenda. We must treat literacy instruction as a key part of the broader effect to ensure that all students develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers.

Carnegie Corporation of New York is a philanthropic foundation created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to do "real and permanent good in this world."